My Cart


Selecting King Salmon Flies

Posted on May 13 2016

Selecting fly color for king salmon.
Color matters. Photos: Stuart Foxall.

In just over a month we kick off our summer seasons at our Alaska operations. That means it won’t be long before we’re swinging flies for big, bright, king salmon.. Heck, we’re getting antsy just writing about it!

When selecting flies for king salmon, most of the time exact fly pattern is not overly important. However, depending on a bunch of variables (light, water levels, location, etc.) fly color can make a big difference. So today, Stuart Foxall shares his thoughts with us on selecting flies for king salmon – particularly what color fly to choose and when.

Selecting King Salmon Flies

There are a multitude of colors and shapes of flies that we can use to catch chrome bright king salmon. For an inexperienced angler there are just way too many options, so let’s try to simplify things to help you make the best choice.

Let’s just concentrate on colors to begin with. I’ll let you decide whether you want to choose rhea tube intruders, like those shown below, or bunny leeches, marabou tubes, shanked intruders, or so on.. They all work!

I like flies that have a contrast of color. A fly featuring two contrasting colors make it easier for the fish to see, as opposed to a plain solid color fly. So, to save us having hundreds of different colored fly options in our box it’s much easier to have two ‘light’ colored options and two ‘dark’ colored options. As the old Scottish ghillie saying goes, “dark fly for a dull day and bright fly for a bright day..” There is some truth in this!

As light options I prefer chartreuse/blue and pink/orange, and for dark options I like blue/black and purple/black. I’ll explain more about each below, but these should cover you on most fishing situations.

Selecting fly color for king salmon.
Chartreuse and blue. 

Chartreuse and blue is by far and away my favorite color combination for king salmon. It certainly appears to work better the closer to sea that you use it. It works great in bright sunny conditions but definitely don’t ignore it on those dull, cold, wet, ‘salmon’ days either!

It’s also a great color combination for chum salmon although you may have to use slightly smaller sized flies. And, if you think trout may be around, its worth swinging in front of any snags or drop offs at the end of gravel bars. It’s amazing how many of my largest leopard rainbow trout have fallen to this color fly.

Selecting fly color for king salmon.
Pink and orange.

My second option as a light colored fly is pink and orange. When the sun has burnt the morning mist off the river this can sometimes be the only color that works. Once again it’s amazing how many large rainbow trout you can get on this color combination as well.. Perhaps they take it as fish guts!

Selecting fly color for king salmon.
Purple and black.

On a dull and misty ‘salmon morning,’ there is nothing more exciting than tying your fly on, and wondering how many fish have pushed in on the tide. On these dull days I like purple and black. As you can see, I have used pink fritz balls and a pink hot cone, and the other one has chartreuse fritz balls and a chartreuse cone. I don’t think that it makes that much difference, but if the day appears to be getting warmer I’ll use the pink version and if the day appears to be getting colder I’ll use the chartreuse version.

Selecting fly color for king salmon.
Black and blue.

Every Pacific Northwest anadromous fly fisher should have some black and blue flies in their box! They work on multiple species and more importantly in plenty of conditions. Once again, I’ve used chartreuse fritz balls and cones on one and hot pink fritz balls and hot red come on the other. The red cone version is a magnet to trout and grayling so well worth putting on when you just fancy catching ‘fish’ and aren’t too concerned what species pulls your string! This is usually my second option if I change from the chartreuse and blue.

Theres another tip that may be more important than choosing the correct color combination, and that’s to work as a team. If fishing with a buddy, choose a light colored fly while your fishing partner chooses a dark colored fly (or vice versa). See which one works best on the day and swap over to that choice accordingly.. Remember, it’s the fish that are the experts, so let them have final say!

More on Swinging for Kings

Join our Mailing List

Sign up to receive our Newsletter!

My Cart

Subtotal: $ 0.00

Your cart is currently empty.